Costa Rica Hospitals: What to Do When You Need Medical Treatment

When You Need Medical Treatment

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When you move to Costa Rica, at some point or another you’re going to need medical care. You might have an emergency, you might want a health checkup, or perhaps you or your wife will need maternity care.

Before your need for medical care arises, it pays to know what kind of service you’re going to get from public and private hospitals in the country.

And even if you don’t live here but plan on visiting as a medical tourist, having insider knowledge will nudge you one-step further along your journey.

With that said, our in-depth guide to public and private hospitals in Costa Rica will show you everything from the pros and cons of public and private hospitals to the kinds of treatment you can get and even what to expect on appointment day.

Available Treatments

At Costa Rica’s hospitals, you can get a variety of medical treatment and surgeries, see different specialties, and get emergency medical care, whether it’s for you, your child, or an older relative.

The country has all the medical and surgical specialists you need: cardiologists, gastroenterologists, neurologists, pneumologists, neurosurgeons, oncologists, ophthalmologists, plastic surgeons, dermatologists, endocrinologists, and more.

This means you won’t have to leave the country to get the proper treatment.

Doctors in Costa Rica’s hospitals have years of training (sometimes in places like America) and go through continuous training to keep up with the latest medical practices, which means they provide quality, accurate, patient-focused treatment.

Treatment Quality

Medical and dental care in Costa Rica are consistently ranked as some of the best in the world by the UN and WHO. In fact, many expats choose to live in the country because of its healthcare system.

HOSPITAL RAFAEL ANGEL CALDERÓN GUARDIA
Hospital Rafael Angel Calderón Guardia is a leading public hospital in San Jose.

Moreover, hospitals are clean and equipped with modern facilities. Many of the doctors speak English and have trained in the United States and throughout Europe. And most of the doctors specialize in one thing or another.

When it comes to public hospitals, you can get treatment from medical students, interns, and resident doctors who specialize in different fields.

In private hospitals, you won’t find practicing doctors because all the professionals who work there have many years of professional experience. Additionally, most of them also work for the Costa Rican Social Security System.

Pros and Cons of Hospitals in Costa Rica

As I’ve already noted, hospitals in Costa Rica have a lot of good things going for them. However, they are not perfect.

Here are the major pros and cons of getting treated at private and public hospitals in Costa Rica.

Pros

  • Highly qualified doctors who speak English
  • Quality care from doctors who’ve trained at top universities abroad
  • The choice between getting treated at a public or private hospital—great if you move to Costa Rica
  • Low-cost, private medical care with same-day results
  • Government insurance, which gives you appointments, quality care, medicine, treatment, lab tests, emergency care, dentistry, and surgeries—if necessary—without paying more than your monthly premium
  • 24-hour emergency medical care

Cons

Most of the cons below refer to public hospitals.

  • Long waiting times for non-routine medical treatment
  • Two- to three-month waits for special diagnostic tests—if they are not life threatening
  • Long wait times for appointments unless you use the hospital’s telephone service to schedule a visit
  • Up to one year wait time for non-emergency surgeries

Getting Treated

In Costa Rica, you can get medical treatment in three ways.

First, you can go through Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS), which is public insurance for locals and expats provided and administered by the Costa Rican Government.

To be eligible, you have to contribute part of your income to the CCSS—just as Costa Ricans do—and then you get access to most public medical care with no extra costs.

Second, you can get private health insurance, either from a local or international provider. Usually, private health insurance will cover you at both public and private hospitals.

You can read our health insurance in Costa Rica article to find out more.

Third, you can pay for medical treatment out of pocket. The cost of medical treatment in Costa Rica is low compared to the United States.

An outpatient visit with a specialist will cost about $80 depending on the type of hospital you pick. In Costa Rica, you have two primary choices for hospitals, which you’ll learn more about below.

Types of Hospitals

In Costa Rica, expats can get medical care in two ways: healthcare provided by the government at public hospitals and healthcare provided by private hospitals.

You can find a variety of hospitals all throughout the country. In addition, Costa Rica has specialized hospitals like the Children’s Hospital and the Maternity Hospital Carit.

Public Hospitals

In Costa Rica, public hospitals are directed, regulated, and coordinated through the Ministry of Health, which ensures that all of Costa Rica’s public hospitals function properly and provide the necessary services to its citizens.

Hospital San juan de Dios Costa Rica
Hospital San juan de Dios is considered one of the most important public hospitals in Costa Rica.

If you have public health insurance, treatment in the country is free in most public hospitals and clinics. However, as it the case with most other countries, public healthcare in Costa Rica has some disadvantages.

First, as I’ve already noted in the above section, long wait times for non-emergency medical care is the norm. But once you get to see a doctor or get the care you need, quality and the degree of satisfaction is remarkable.

In the country’s public hospitals you will find general physicians, specialists, emergency services, hospitalization, surgical needs, delivery rooms, orthopedics, and even dental services—all free of charge if you pay for health insurance through the CCSS.

Moreover, the medical care that public hospitals provide is so good that even private hospitals send, on occasion, their most critical patients to public facilities. This is because some medical teams at public hospitals are qualified to deal with diseases that need special attention.

Second, in addition to long wait times, expats may find visiting a public hospitals to be challenging. Making an appointment can be difficult since not all staff speak English.

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However, a vast majority of doctors in Costa Rica speak English so this won’t be an impediment to receiving quality healthcare.

Third, navigating the hospital can also be a challenge. You might not know what steps to take next unless you get help from a local.

With all of that said, you can find Costa Rica’s public hospitals all throughout the country. If you are living in San Jose, you can check out Hospital San Juan de Dios, one of the country’s most popular hospitals; Hospital Rafael Ángel Calderón Guardia; and Hospital México.

In the provinces, you may find doctors at public hospitals trained to perform all types of surgeries, doctors who can take care of patients who need intensive care, and doctors to treat medical emergencies.

Here are some well-known public hospitals in Costa Rica:

  • San Vito Hospital in Puntarenas
  • Enrique Baltodano Briceño in Guanacaste
  • San Carlos Hospital in San Carlos
  • Maximiliano Peralta Jiménez in Cartago
  • Tony Facio Hospital in Limón

You can check all available public hospitals on the CCSS’s website.

In addition to public hospitals, you can also visit public health clinics called Los Equipos Básicos de Atención Integral en Salud,or EBAIS in short. They are basically a local public clinic that acts as your first step before visiting public hospitals.

I’ll talk more about this later in the article.

Private Hospitals

Costa Rica has many private hospitals and clinics that can provide you, the expat, quality care if you have the money to spend.

architecture in San Jose, costa rica
Most leading private hospitals are located in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica.

Private hospitals and clinics treat patients at any time and have many specialists, outpatient services, and surgeries.

Most leading private hospitals are in San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica.

Visiting private hospitals has its advantages. For example, you don’t have to wait in long lines for an appointment, staff speak fluent English, you can pay with a credit card, and you’ll get more time to talk to the doctor of your choice.

The staff working at private hospitals will help you understand and follow the doctor’s instructions.

However, private facilities also has their disadvantages, especially when it comes to pricing. Costs are generally higher, and depending on the treatment you need this could be a financial burden.

Despite this, prices are still much cheaper compared to private healthcare in America, so if you’re coming to Costa Rica as a medical tourist, you’ll save yourself some money.

Here are some well-known private hospitals in Costa Rica:

Biblical Clinic Hospital

Biclical Clinic Hospital has been around the longest history in the country. The staff are highly qualified, speak English, and have been trained according to the highest standards of health practices.

They offer a variety of medical procedures, treatments, and more than 80 medical specialties including cardiology, bariatric surgery, gastroenterology, plastic surgery, dentistry, dermatology, and endodontics, among others.

CIMA Hospital 

Located in the country’s capital, CIMA Hospital is considered to be one of the best private hospitals in the region. Its staff are fully bilingual and treat expat patients who call Costa Rica home.

They provide quality care before, during, and after medical treatment. They also offer more than 60 medical specialties, have more than one hundred beds in private rooms, and boast an incredible intensive care unit.

Some examples of specialties provided at this hospital include oncology, cardiology, orthopedics, cosmetic and reconstructive surgery, maternity, and pediatrics.

In fact, CIMA Hospital is the only private facility in the country with an intensive care nursery for newborns.

UNIBE Hospital 

UNIBE Hospital is located in the country’s capital, San José, and uses the highest quality equipment to treat patients.

The hospital is part of the American Association Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities, Inc. and its main mission is to provide medical services in an integral manner, with excellence and professionalism.

This hospital provides services in cardiology, geriatrics, neurology, dentistry, general surgery, plastic surgery, intensive care, and laboratory, among others.

Metropolitan Hospital

Metropolitan Hospital has several branches in the country and two medical specialty centers, one for mental health and another for cancer treatment.

The medical care and nursing services they provide are high quality and their prices are affordable.

At Metropolitan Hospital, you get access to medical services including hospitalizations, x-rays, surgeries, emergency services, cardiology, palliative medicine, among others.

It also offers a variety of medical specialties including odontology, geriatrics, gynecology, and cardiology, to name a few.

San Rafael Arcángel Hospital

If you live far from the capital, don’t worry. You can go to San Rafael Arcángel Hospital in the province of Liberia, Guanacaste, and its commitment to patient care is impressive.

San Rafael Arcángel Hospital has modern facilities with advanced equipment, and its staff are bilingual.

They offer 24-hour service, surgery rooms, a wide variety of services and medical specialties, prevention packages, and maternity plans.

Hospital Directories

If you know Spanish, you can check out these directories to help you locate hospitals and clinics where you live:

Now that you know the pros and cons of public and private hospitals, let’s dive a little deeper. In the next section you’ll discover what to expect when visiting a hospital in Costa Rica.

Visiting Hospitals

If you live in Costa Rica and pay into social security, the first thing you have to do before going to a public hospital is visit an EBAIS.

This is where you will see a general practitioner who will check you, send you lab results to verify your general health status, and refer you to other public hospitals if necessary.

However, if you want to go to a private hospital, the first thing you have to do is pick the hospital of your preference. A good idea is to search the web and check the links I’ve provided in the section above.

Once you pick a hospital, it’s time to make an appointment.

Making Appointments

In Costa Rica, you must make an appointment before visiting any hospital, public or private. The process can be done by phone, WhatsApp, or even online.

MRI Scan
A follow-up appointment is usually required for MRIs.

At private hospitals, since most staff speak English, it’ll be easy for you to set up an appointment. And you might be able to see a doctor on the same day you call.

To make an appointment at a private hospital, just call the hospital, make an appointment with a specialist or general doctor, and show up on the assigned day.

It’s a good idea to arrive 30 minutes before the appointment. This way the assistants and nurses can take your details and vital signs before you see the doctor.

When making appointments at public hospitals, unless you speak Spanish, you may need a translator—and the process is a bit different.

The first step is to make an appointment at the EBAIS, where a doctor will meet with you and possibly run some tests.

You’ll then have to wait for the results of your x-rays, ultrasounds, or any other test you had to take. When they’re ready, your doctor will call you in for a follow-up and review the results.

You will then be treated accordingly or, if necessary, be referred to a specialist at one of the public hospitals.

It’s important that on the day of the appointment, whether you pick a public or private hospital, you must present all your documents in order, this includes:

  • your ID
  • documents indicating you’re an expat resident in Costa Rica
  • medical records from your home country, if applicable

You should also get your social security in order, too, just in case you have to visit a public hospital.

If you need surgery at a private hospital, you must:

  • Handle your pre-admission at least three days before your appointment
  • Show up with a family member or person you trust
  • Present your ID or passport
  • Submit the order of internment issued by the doctor in charge on the day of your admission
  • Show up at least three hours before your surgery
  • Pay for the procedure in advance
  • Avoid carrying valuables or cash
  • Fast for 12 hours before the procedure

Before you show up for your surgery, tell your doctor if you’re on any medications or if you need to bring specific tests.

For emergency procedures, you can still visit a hospital. However, you’ll be sent to the emergency room.

Alternatively, you can visit private clinics owned by doctors without having to make appointments.

Paying Medical Bills

Hospitals in Costa Rica accept cash, credit card, and wire transfers. In addition to the Costa Rican Colón, US Dollars are generally accepted. However, the exchange rate might not be as fair as paying with local currency.

If you have CCSS health insurance, you won’t have to pay since visits are covered.

If you have private insurance, though, you might have to pay and make a claim later. If the amount exceeds your coverage limits, you will have to pay the difference on the spot.

Picking Up Medication

After paying the bill, you’ll have to pick up your medicine at one of the pharmacies located in the hospital.

If the pharmacy doesn’t have your medication, you can buy it from any of the pharmacies throughout the country.

Now, on to You

Public and private hospitals in Costa Rica are some of the best in the world. And when compared to places like the United States, they’re much less expensive.

This means that if you opt to get treated in one Costa Rica’s hospitals, you can rest assure knowing that you’re getting quality care at affordable prices.

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